BLOOD by Peter Kadzis


Stories of Life and Death from the Civil War
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An extraordinary collection of reminiscences, short fiction, and excerpts (from diaries and memoirs and letters) by an array of soldiers, professional writers, and assorted observers of the Civil War.

In his brief introduction, Boston Phoenix editor Kadzis declares that he presents these “shards of testimony” to “suggest the breadth and depth of the Civil War experience.” As might be predicted, some shards are sharper than others, but all of them have an edge. To General Pickett, for example, the artillery fire at Gettysburg made “the whole world a blazing volcano.” There are numerous horrifying descriptions of the wounded. A lieutenant colonel with Jeb Stuart recalls members of his unit vomiting at the sight of battlefield surgery; a young woman named Caroline Seabury compares the impromptu military hospitals to “Pandemonium”; and the long excerpt from Walt Whitman’s Specimen Days includes an account of “a heap of amputated feet, legs, arms, hands, &c.” In a diary entry from 1862, a Confederate girl eloquently compares the Confederacy to “a rope of sand” that “will not last many years.” Included also are harrowing tales of escape by prisoners of war (one segment by Confederate soldier Berry Benson is especially graphic), and there are a variety of comments on slavery: “[T]his infernal slavery system has corrupted our blood,” writes George Templeton Strong in his diary. A former slave comments about blacks born after the war: “These chillun don’t know what hard times is.” Kadzis also includes little-known war stories—like the violent anti-draft riots in New York City in 1863 (some Irish immigrants, angry about conscription, lynched blacks)—and he has the participants themselves dispel other myths. Grant, for example, characterizes as “the purest romance” the popular story that Lee offered his sword in surrender. The nonfiction selections are so powerful that they render superfluous the fictional ones.

A chorus of voices—some sweet, some crude—all combining to cry aloud the message that we should study war no more. (16 b&w photos)

Pub Date: July 15th, 2000
ISBN: 1-56025-259-6
Page count: 360pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2000